If every city looks alike, then we are failing as a profession

Source: andysinger.com

Source: andysinger.com

In response to a cartoon I posted yesterday on panethos.wordpress.com, (see above) a comment was made that planners are one of the reasons why so many cities look-alike. That was a very thought-provoking and rather disconcerting response.

With reflection, I would have to partially agree with the respondent. In too many instances, we as planners fail to fight the good fight and stand up for sound planning practices. Sure, we can be overruled by boards and commissions, but when one scans multitudes of master plans, long-range plans, comprehensive plans, and zoning codes from across the land, there are numerous similarities. What happened to context? What happened to most appropriate? What happened to all the criteria we should be (and were taught to be) using in our daily responsibilities as planners?

Certainly, some similarities between cities are to be expected. But if Boston looks like Birmingham, if you think you are in Scranton when you are really in Peoria, or if Tucson overly resembles Boise, then that is not a good thing. Variety is the spice of life and our communities should be as diverse, unique, and vibrant as each of us. Otherwise, what’s the point of having individually tailored plans and codes? We might as well have a national set of regulations that are applied uniformly across the nation to every village, town, township, city, or county.

Perhaps this is all simple case of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or of, “if the ordinance survived a challenge elsewhere, it should be good to use here.” Needless to say, these are both somewhat lackadaisical approaches, but they could go a long way towards explaining the conundrum of sameness.

As professional planners, it is our job, no, it is our duty, to develop plans and codes that are best suited to the locality. Planners are not supposed to become one-size fits all land-use fashion designers. Some of you may recall the humorous (and perhaps a tad politically incorrect) Wendy’s commercial from the 1980s mocking a Soviet fashion show. In the advertisement, a model wears the exact same outfit for every purpose. Hopefully, as planners we are not mimicking that commercial in the application of our profession. To do so would be a great disservice to ourselves, our communities, and our profession.

 

 

 

Whose sidewalk is it anyway?

Source: heartlandluxuryhomes.com

Source: heartlandluxuryhomes.com

Recently, I have noticed two things about public sidewalks that seem to be amiss. The first is, why do property owners or businesses and their private landscapers insist on installing their sprinkler systems within the public right-of-way to water the green strip between the sidewalk and the curb? Walkers, joggers, and young cyclists are occasionally treated to unexpected or unappreciated showers when these things activate at their appointed times. Furthermore, far too often, this precious resource is wasted by watering the concrete sidewalk or asphalt driveway/street as the spray nozzles often seem to be aimed in the wrong direction.

Source: waterprogram@tamu.edu

Source: waterprogram.tamu.edu

Secondly, why are invisible fences allowed to be installed right up to the edge of the sidewalk? This allows aggressive dogs to run right up to those walking/jogging/pedaling by and scare the living daylights out of them. Except possibly during “doggy-in-training” periods, most people have no idea whether there is an invisible fence in place, whether it will even stop the dog, or whether the dog can reach you anyhow.

I love dogs just as much as the next person, but a minimum five foot setback from the edge of the sidewalk seems like a reasonable compromise versus being frightened for your personal safety when you pass the home of an angry dog. If anyone knows of a community or communities that has such an ordinance, please feel free to pass the information along. It would be most appreciated.

Rolling stock signage

Source: signsourcesolution.com

Source: signsourcesolution.com

Has anyone else in the planning and zoning realm noticed how certain retail and dining establishments are now strategically placing a fully decaled truck, car, or van in their parking lot to further advertise their business to those passing by? It appears to be the latest effort to circumvent local sign regulations. These vehicles wrapped in vinyl or covered in lettering are not (or rarely) used for anything but advertising purposes and mostly sit in the parking lot to draw more attention and customers.

Aside from the obvious regulatory issues pertaining to another sign being added to the premises, parking a vehicle covered in signage in the parking lot occupies at least one, if not more spaces that were intended (and approved) for employees or customers. In cases where a site barely meets the minimum number off-street spaces, this new tactic can result in their being a deficient number of available spaces, thus leading to additional enforcement or can result in potential impacts on neighboring businesses and/or streets from the spillover of customers.

If anyone has developed sign regulations addressing rolling stock signage, please feel free to share your experiences. Given the portability of these vehicle signs, enforcement can be a tricky issue and how to define/regulate their usage would need to be finely nuanced. Look forward to hearing any feedback.

Manchester United vs. Real Madrid in Ann Arbor

Source: espn.com

Source: espn.com

We had a grand old time Saturday afternoon with more than 109,300 of our closest friends watching the friendly match between Manchester United and Real Madrid in the Big House (Michigan Stadium) in Ann Arbor.

Source: freep.com

Source: freep.com

It was the largest crowd for a soccer match in United States history and the teams did not disappoint – a picture perfect bicycle kick shot on goal by Real Madrid, superb crosses and passes by Man U, dazzling footwork by Renaldo, and a halftime performance by The Fray. In the end, it was Man U who stole the show with a 3-1 victory, as their fans happily sang Glory, Glory Man United.

Source: freep.com

Source: freep.com

Cheers and thank you to both teams for bringing the beauty and excitement of Champions League soccer to Michigan!

Source: freep.com

Source: freep.com

 

 

 

Temples rock the Tonight Show

Source: xfm.co.uk

Source: xfm.co.uk

Temples absolutely kicked arse last night (July 30th) on the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon performing “Shelter Song” from their awesome debut album entitled Sun Structures. Here’s a weblink to the video of their performance. Enjoy!